The women were sitting around the facility living room watching the Casey Anthony trial. The assisted living facility had recently installed a big screen TV, and it has been tuned to the trial since it began. The ladies were convinced of Casey Anthony’s guilt; that she murdered her daughter. An elderly gentleman stood in back of the couch on which the ladies conversed. One of the women asked the man if Casey Anthony was guilty. He replied that he was unsure. The women were in shock.
As voyeurs into this lurid spectacle, we are regaled with many incidental details. There is certainly no smoking gun, nor any other direct evidence of guilt. The bits of reality that float down are suspicious, but not damning. Even unimaginative people could use the available clues to invent scenarios that do not involve murder. The defense offered one such scenario, but failed to prove their contentions. Perhaps it was an unnamed boyfriend that directly or indirectly caused the child’s death. Perhaps it was a total stranger that directly or indirectly caused Kaylee Anthony’s death. Perhaps Casey was concealing her complete indifference, and never believed that she would be charged with murder. Perhaps Casey Anthony has no idea what befell her daughter. The various stories told to family and police may have concealed her indifference, as opposed to concealing a murder.
The low probability of discovering the truth produces tension and viewership. Few people would watch sporting events if the outcome was guaranteed. The frustration and tension produced by uncertainty compels the public to watch for clues that could reveal the truth. For most people, a state of uncertainty is intolerable over an extended period of time. People may actually express relief at hearing bad news, not because they are masochistic, but because their need to know has been satisfied. Since the Casey Anthony trial is unable to discover the truth, the uncertainty will remain, and so will the interest.
Humans naturally form associations between events based upon time, similarity and function. This does not mean these associations are accurate or even helpful, but it is the way our brains function. Not limited to associating bits of information together, our brains find reasons why the associations exist. For example, surgeons who stimulate brain regions while the patient is awake note particular reactions. If the surgeon stimulates a motor area that lifts their arm, the patient will reply that they “felt” like moving that arm. If a particular memory is aroused by electrical stimulation, the patient will find a commonplace cause for that particular recollection. Our brains are machines that form associations and causal links.
The women viewing the Casey Anthony trial believed their causal associations entirely, and could not fathom someone choosing to be uncertain. They latched on to the causal links formed by the prosecution, since it fit the few available clues. The defense failed to produce a story that fit the available clues. The public then had to choose between adopting the prefabricated causal links, or formulating their own conclusions. Since it is easier to buy off the rack than have clothes tailor made, the judgment of the public was a foregone conclusion. Do not fret at the passing of this news event. Like other unsolved crimes, interest will remain on a reduced level. Think Jimmy Hoffa and the Lindbergh baby. We can now add Kaylee Anthony to the list.